Jessie van Vreden and Anke Teunissen talk about learning to work with 360-degree VR storytelling and hiring Dutch actor Rutger Hauer for their joint work The Last Chair.
Dutch actor Rutger Hauer is not a name usually associated with the world of documentary, but in a rare foray into the world of non-fiction the Blade Runner star recorded the dialogue for the English-language version of Anke Teunissen and Jessie van Vreden’s joint work The Last Chair.
The two-part, 360-degree virtual reality documentary capturing two ageing men approaching the end of their lives as they reflect on their past and present from the comfort of their favourite chair is premiering in DocLab this year.
The subjects both live alone in rural locations, but their lives could not be more different. Childless bachelor Egbert is a farmer in his nineties inhabiting a farm in the northeast of the Netherlands, where he was born. He recounts his life as he goes about his daily routine: salting herrings, slaughtering and plucking a hen or taking the car out. Time has stood still in the dilapidated property, which contains a century’s worth of family memorabilia.
Fred is a former hippy in his seventies and father of three who has withdrawn from his old life in the Netherlands to a converted farmhouse in France. He knows his days are numbered, but seems unable to make peace with himself, deeming himself a failure for the paths he took in life. Teunissen and Van Vreden reveal the joint project grew out of a conversation while they were holidaying together some three years ago. “I mentioned I wanted do something on the subject of elderly people and their favourite chair, around photography or film,” explains Teunissen. “One of Jessie’s friends suggested it would be a perfect subject for the Oculus Rift, but at the time I had no idea what he was talking about.”
Van Vreden immediately saw the potential of the idea as a VR piece. “I had seen one or two pieces at that point. I thought it was a really powerful image, the chair which life concentrates around. I also liked the fact it unfolded in the living room, in an intimate space.”
The pair were both “really inexperienced in VR” but began attending workshops around the subject, including sessions at the IDFAcademy in 2014. They also managed to secure development money from the Netherlands Film Fund, and to get prolific feature-length producer Pieter Van Huystee on board.
The project’s progress slowed as they grappled with completing the funding, getting to grips with the technology and finding the right VR partners to help them shoot the piece. They eventually decided to work with Belgian VR specialist Fisheye, having connected with the company at the IDFAcademy. “It was pioneering. We had to find our workflow with Van Huystee and Fisheye. It was not like working on a traditional documentary”, says Van Vreden. Teunissen says the fact both filmmakers knew their subjects helped with the finished work. “That was good for VR, because you feel like you’re meeting an acquaintance”, she says.
Hauer’s involvement in the project came about after the pair realised it would be impossible to get the subjects to self-dub themselves for the English language, international version. Teunissen was not put off by people who told her getting Hauer was a long-shot. “I sent him a nice email and he replied pretty rapidly, asking for a link. I think it was Egbert who clinched it," she recounts. “Hauer was shooting but said he wanted do it. He described the work as ‘a pearl’ and said of it ‘I can only feel love for this project in my heart’.” She credits translator and writer Mark Baker for getting the tone right in his translation of the Dutch dialogue.
The filmmakers are now trying to raise the post-production for a final film in the trilogy about an elderly woman called Annie who lost her family in World War II, but made it her life’s work to fill it with family and experiences. “We’ve shot the footage and are now looking for a final €15,000 to €20,000 to finish the post-production”, says Van Vreden.
Header photo: Grasshopperstudios